Tuesday, December 27, 2011

On The New Year

Hey there, friends. It seems that my little case of the sniffles has turned into a nasty case of bronchitis. Grey went with me to the doctor on Christmas eve and I got a steroid shot in my tuchus, a round of antibiotics and some sort of cough syrup that has a narcotic in it. The normal stuff with cideine in it is usually ok but this stuff that he gave me has a real wallop. I'm afraid to take it more than once a day because it knocks me out. I do have to admit that I felt better almost immediately. My doctor disapproves of where I work; there is posted mold and asbestos signs and he believes strongly that I should find another place to be.

Christmas passed in a lovely way. We exchanged gifts, made some really yummy alfredo - Grey and I are both vegetarians- and dropped off gifts to a couple of friends. One of the things I did for my family and a few friends this year was to buy bird houses and paint them according to what I think of the person receiving the house. I got the idea back in August when I was visiting my cousin Christian. He's a big outdoorsy sorta guy and he's talked an awful lot about buying a cabin out in the middle of nowhere. I imagine a log structure with a dark green roof, a red oval door with some quaint German designs around it and a few small touches here and there. A few weeks later I was in a craft store looking for stuff for my classroom and I saw the cabin I'd love for him to have. Only it was just a wood birdhouse in need of painting. Voila, my idea took hold. Each of my sisters and their families got one. Patti's family got one with a white sloped roof and yellow sides with little yellow flowers all around it. Mickie's family got a two story with hearts on it. My mom's has holly berry sprigs. My friend Cathy's was special- I dreamed up the Route 66 logo and painted roads all over the sides. Charlotte got a church steeple with big wild flower designs all over it. And for the Hargraves, a dojo with the symbol for home and flowering cherry tree limbs. They were a lot of fun to make and give.

But now that I'm feeling better, I also took myself off to the girlie doctor. A month or so ago I landed in the emergency room for what I would characterize as unlawful bleeding. I saw an ob-gyn today. I said "Hey, before we start, I need to know something. Are you an optimist, pessimist or realist?" Fair question, I think. I don't really want to be treated by an optimist or pessimist because these people have already made up their minds. It seems to me that someone who describes themselves as a realist might be willing to just see what is there, or not there and not try to interpret too much. She said that she is a realist and I was very glad. We talked extensively of my medial history and what's going on and she had a look under the hood. The news is as best as one might suspect. Sometimes women over 35 bleed when they are not supposed to and nobody really knows why. Yep, that was the answer. I probably do not have anything wrong with me at all. Of course, I'm doing follow up bloodwork tomorrow and an ultrasound in two weeks but overall, there are no discernable cysts or tumors and things appear to be cool. Of course, if I want to make the irrational bleeding stop, there are some treatment options. I'm not going to worry too much right now. If my body isn't sick then why would I treat it? I don't know, maybe I will have to think about it more later.

In the meantime, I have been thinking a lot lately about what direction I want my life to take this next year. I've just finished the greatest academic endeavor of my life. After 12 years of college, I have reached the end of the line. Therefore, some things will need to change and other things just have the opportunity to do so. Here then are my resolutions, or rather things I would like to accomplish in the next year.

1. Give great care to my relationships and grow into a better person because of those things. This may involve me seeking to change myself or just capitalizing on the neat relationships I already have in place. I think I will now have time to be a better friend and to deepen my friendships.

2. Get my financial house in order. I have student loans - and lots of them- coming due. I need to figure out how to live on what I make. I'd like to live on just the salary I make at the public school teaching job I have and save the extra money from my part time professor job for fun and travel. I'm not sure if that's possible, but I'm going to try.

3. Find a permanent place to be. By years end, I would like to be in a permanent place, probably a new city or state, in a professorship at a univeristy. This will involve selling my home. I'd like to finish the book I've started too.

4. Get my home in good shape and sell it.

5. Relax! I no longer have to rush from job to job to school. Now it's just one physical job and one online. I can now afford more time to relax, read, run, work out and get enough sleep. I want this to be there year when I concentrate on my home life. I think it will help my health as well. I'm going to pay special attention to my health this year.

I try to only make resolutions that I can keep. When I was a little girl, say around 1983 when I was 10, I resolved for New Years that year that I would always love strawberries. I'm proud to say that I still love them and that that particular resolution has held. One year I resolved to get into good enough shape to teach aerobics, and I ended that year as an aerobics instructor. There were resolutions to teach yoga, get my black belt in kempo karate and to run a half marathon. I met those as well. This years was to get my PhD. Done.

I haven't always met my goals. One year it was to fall in love, get married and have children. Another year I came close but didn't get to run a whole marathon. When I was 12 I resolved to adopt a palomino mare. Didn't happen. I still hope for those things, but the marathon might not happen. My knees have a lot of damage to them from running already. I might get to walk it though. The Oklahoma City Marathon means a lot to me and I'm not ready to give that one up just yet. The pony might have to wait too, so perhaps not all resolutions can come true in one year. Maybe not all resolutions come in the year you make them. Maybe they are not meant to.

I do know that my life is pretty lucky just the way it is. I have pretty good health and my family seems healthy too. Nobody is in jail right now. Grey, after a grand total of 3 months of dating, still seems perfectly wonderful. In fact, I like him even more now than the first day we met. I liked him then but now I know him better and I like him even more. My friends are likewise doing alright; if not making headway they seem to be holding steady.

Who knows, maybe inspiration will strike me again. Maybe I will paint more birdhouses or take up oil painting as I did in my youth. Maybe I will learn French or how to play the piano. Perhaps I need a sixth resolution: to remain open to possiblity. But maybe that shouldn't just be a resolution. Maybe that should be a guiding principal in life and love.

Happy New Years to you. Thank you for keeping up with my blog, for your continued support and for sometimes shaking the shit out of me when I need it. I can't wait to see what 2012 is going to bring us!

Mindie Antoinette Dieu

Friday, December 23, 2011

Is There A Doctor In The House?

It's December 23rd, the calm after the storm.  I have a sinus infection from hell- snot blocking all of my airways and tissue attached to my hands.  I have long sleeves on my sweater because I'm cold most of the time (except for those hot flashes) and I keep tissues up the sleeves so it looks like I am a human tissue dispenser.  Sometimes I spike a fever and sweat profusely for about 10 minutes, then go back to freezing to death.  I'm self-medicating, taking antibiotics from the last time I was sick and some sudafed stuff.  Later I will go get some Nyquil and maybe mix it with vodka to improve the effect.  That will heal me.

School is out.  I was done teaching at my middle school on the 13th, and the last class for my college students was on the same day, so once grades were turned in there was nothing left to do as far as teaching is concerned.  All I had to worry about was graduation. 

Ah graduation.  A few weeks ago, I took a copy of my dissertation in to the graduate college to have them pre-approve the document.  They require two copies of the dissertation on 100% cotton paper.  I wrote about this in my last blog post but I was a little, uh, stressed out at the time and thought I'd take a second swing at it. 

Since it's expensive to print dissertations, I did a dry run and had them ferret out any changes so I didn't have to reprint.  Two changes, that was all.  Easy ones.  So I made my last appointment for the Wednesday before graduation.  I had until Friday to turn things in but my first experience with the graduate college is that last minute is never going to work.  That experience involved me reprinting my masters thesis six different times and costing hundreds of dollars.  Live and learn and don't make the same mistake twice.  Two changes.  I did that, and gladly printed my dissertation- all 200 pages of it- on 100% cotton paper as required by the graduate college.  The borders were just so; the margins at the top not too far to the top and each page dutifully numbered in roman numerals and in plain numbers.  Appendices were clearly marked and all pagination noted in the table of contents.  The abstract was single spaced and the acknowledgments were double spaced.  I rather triumphantly marched into the graduate college at the appropriate time and was greeted with a wait of 45 minutes- despite my appointment- because of a "staff meeting".  Everyone came out of the meeting with wrapping paper and christmas gifts.  Five minutes later, I heard seven dreaded words, "There is a problem with your dissertation." 

Let's pause for a moment, shall we?  I have heard those words before.  They make me panic and give me nightmares.  I heard them in my dreams and the doubtful voice in my head shouted "I knew it! Did you think they'd just let you pass?"  It is the apprent job of the grad college to act as a barrier of sorts, a final condom between those who have a strong desire to expel dissertations into the world and those who shall not pass because they are not worthy.  Myself being the former, I inquired politely as to the nature of the problem.

It was only a single error.   A page needed to be single spaced and not double spaced. 

It was a single error on the signature page. 

The signature page has the original signatures of five people that it took me six months to get into the same room.  I did not think I could acquire all five of those signaures in only two days and I had family members coming into town- two sisters- to help me celebrate this achievement that hadn't quite happened yet.  I suspected that one of my signators was leaving the country if he hadn't already left.  I expressed my doubt to the seemingly sympathetic "academic counselor".  Did you ever see the television show "Murphy Brown"?  In it, Murphy Brown, as played by Candice Bergen, is a television reporter with a new secretary every week.  They are incompetent, surly, comical, and completely temporary.  Such is the same with our "academic counselors" in the graduate college.  This was my third counselor in one semester.  I asked what I thought was a simple question: Why didn't they say something earlier?  Now, I realize it's my fault for not having single spaced the page in the first place, but I did do due diligence to bring it in to them ahead of time to avoid catastrophe's such as this.  The answer: You must have switched the pages, because we would have caught this right away..

I did not blow my top. Out loud.  I waited until I was outside.

And I did my part, rushing around to get signatures and emailing professors.  I tracked the possibly out-of-country guy to his office and practically pinned him to the wall.  And I got my final signature the next day. 

Triumphantly, I re-entered the graduate college.  They approved. 

Then I dropped the copies at the library.  Once you do that, there is no going back.  You are a doctor.  I was looking for the Aquisitions office and ran into a lady across the way.  "Have you seen the Acquisitions people anywhere?" I inquired. She smiled and pointed across the hall to a big sign I had completely missed in my panicked tunnelvision.  "Thanks," I said, "now, when I come out of that door, I will be a doctor. Do they give out capes in there?" 

They didn't give out capes, but the process was entirely simple, economic and briskly dealth with.  "Congratulations", said the lady in Acquisitions.  I went back across the way, found the nice lady and made a brushing motion with my arm across my sleeve, as though I had a crumb or two to get rid of. "Funny, I don't feel any different!"  We wished each other a merry Christmas and I went on my way. 

My sisters flew in to town for graduation.  Really, that's the only reason I went through with the ceremony.  I had a lovely visit with them, and introduced them to Grey who squired us around town like a champ.  I found out that I was selected as the outstanding graduate student, though nobody had emailed me and so they found someone else to give the graduate student speech.  I still feel very complimented, however, and got to sit up on the stage during the ceremony with the professors I have so admired for many years.  It was lovely. And we took pictures with a few of them, and with the good friends I have made at the College of Education, and stepped on back home. 

They let you wear a puffy hat for graduation.  But I wasn't allowed to sleep in it...
The party was great too- Cathy, Jackie and her husband Darren, Veronica and Grey put it on. Really fun too, with lots of food and people filtering in and out through the evening.  I didn't have to be in the spotlight much at all, but did make a toast to all who attended and for those who could not make it but were there in spirit.  In all, it was a spectacular day.  And all that I have done since then is rest and enjoy time to reflect and visit and talk and read. 

Thus far, having a Ph.D. hasn't gotten me much beyond a terrific party and some letters after my name. I take it back; my sisters got to meet most of the important people in my life.  Several times I heard each of them say "You are exactly as she described!" and that was fun as all get out.  If I were a medical doctor, I'd write myself a prescription for a stronger antibiotic.  Instead I will have to wait until Tuesday for a regular appointment.  Instead, I will wax philosophical since that's my area.  And in the meantime, I have some Christmas shopping to do. 

I also got this sweet teeshirt that says "Doctor"
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The End of the Friggin' World

Almost there.  I was almost there.  Today was supposed to be my last day as a graduate student. 

I am sometimes a planner. There are things I am a little exacting about and with good reason.  Allow me to give an example using the graduate college at the university I am currently attending. 

As a master's student, I selected the thesis option and wrote about 125 pages of thesis, including three case studies and a self reflective journal with the requisite review of relevant literature and traditional five chapters. I met for the first time with my graduate college liasion during that summer. She instructed me to print out my thesis on 100% cotton paper and bring it to her for inspection prior to giving it to the library.  I did so.

It wasn't right.

I fixed what she told me to.

She found other things.

Each time I brought my revisions to her, they were on 100% cotton, acid-free paper.  It gets expensive.  After the sixth revision, I had to stop dealing with her.  I was so angry.  I spent over $100 on copying things so that she could make big changes that she should have seen the first time.  I got the paper delivered to the library with something like 20 minutes to spare.  Depositing the dissertation is the last step before becoming a PhD too. 

So yes, I am a little more careful these days.  I tend to plan things out and read completely before taking any action concerning the grad college. I made an effort to go purchase my own cotton paper (with thanks to my friend Cathy for also providing her extra stuff) and went to the one place in Oklahoma City that carries specialty paper. 

I walked in the door marked "Will Call".  It was a little mystifying; I wasn't aware that a show would be playing too.  But what the hey.  The nice men in the warehouse-which is where I found myself- escorted me to the retail area.  A middle-aged and burly man looked me up and down and then addressed me.
"Did you need to buy some paper?"
"Yes.  I need a ream of 100% cotton, acid-free paper.  Of course, it would be cellulose free as well and that's important.  Do you sell that kind of paper?"
"Well, it's very expensive.  Let me look." He spoke slowly to me as though I were a scared rabbit.  "You know, we only usually handle commercial distribution."
"Are you saying that you can't sell me a ream of paper?"
"A ream is the smallest increment possible. How much do you need?" Didn't I just say what I needed?
"It's for my dissertation," I blurted out.  I wanted to say "I'm almost 40 asshole and I'm finishing the most important document of my life to date.  How's about you look up the paper before I rip you a new asshole," but I didn't.  I hate being patronized.  It makes me cranky. 
But the salesman wasn't done. He leaned forward.  "There's a nice gentleman outside who knows everything in the world about paper.  I'm going to ask him if this is the paper you need." I was standing so I just held up my hands, palm up and looked askance.  He went outside to some old fella who was smoking and talked to him a minute. 
"Well little lady, he says this is just what you need."
"Awesome," I said.  He looked at me carefully.
"A ream of this paper is $33.  Is that ok?"

Do I look poor, young and completely clueless?

I did get the paper, but I sort of feel bad for that man, what with his current inability to sit down anymore.

Today I visited the graduate college. 
Two weeks ago, I visited with all of my papers, to make sure before I printed on 100% cotton paper, that everything was indeed in order and that we would not have to make any revisions, reprints or anything else like that. 

It was fine. Everything was fine.

Until today.  Today they tell me that my signature page has the title doublespaced and it needs to be singlespaced. 

This is the third time that the grad college has seen my paper.  Seriously.  And do you know what the counselor tried to say? That I must have switched the pages since they would have completely caught that the first time through.

Do I look like I would make a stupid move like that?  Did I mention that they went through three different counselors this semester alone?

So they wouldn't accept it today. 

And there are implications.  I cannot graduate unless the dissertation- both copies- are turned in to the library. Graduation is Friday and I have no idea where my professors are.  I have taken off of work twice for this and now they are wasting my time.  This is not a simple mistake.  This has happened twice now.  It's happened with other graduate students too...almost every single one.  I am not uncareful.  I am not a slipshod person.  Right now I have no idea if I will be allowed to graduate.

I was able to get 2 of five signatures tonight.  My advisor realized as we were talking that he has doctor appointments on Friday and may not make convocation.  He said they don't do the hooding ceremony then anyway if his memory serves.  My other adviser told me he probably won't come.  He just doesn't want to.  I'm not sure how I feel about graduating with nobody to hood me.  I will go; my sisters are coming just to see this. 

In all of my panic tonight, I forgot my eye appointment.  My house is a mess and my sisters are coming tomorrow.  So I called a couple of friends to blow off steam and stop my shoulders and ears from meeting so often.  I sent an email to my committee and asked them to re-sign the paper. Hopefully it will all clear up tomorrow. 

Tonight, I was going to clean and straighten up and maybe do some laundry.  Instead, I'm writing and thinking and breathing.  Maybe I will go paint. Maybe I will watch television. Maybe I'll read a relaxing book.  The sun will come up tomorrow, life will go on and likely everything will be alright.  I didn't punch anyone and probably only hurt the copy paper guy's feelings.  Nobody died and if I have to spend another semester as a grad student, then so be it. 

It's not the end of the friggin' world.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Lunch Club

A few weeks into the semester, my principal informed the core curriculum teachers that we would need to give up one of our plan periods to do extra student tutoring twice a week.  Somehow, I was to choose 8-12 students who are borderline in their test scores and pull them out of their elective classes twice weekly in order to augment their education.  This would involve extra prep for me and the other core teachers and would likely disrupt the students schedules.

I don't really like that idea. In fact, I resented it a little.  I like having prep time and to tell you the truth, the teachers are not allowed to have teacher aides during prep time since it would create a 1-on-1 situation and possibly have a one in a million chance of an allegation against a teacher.  I believe I have a greater chance of winning the lottery than this happening.  However, I do follow rules. Ok, I follow rules most of the time.

I also have been wondering how to fit a book into my curriculum.  I think every junior high and high school student in the world should read "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian", by Sherman Alexie.  I've reviewed the book for the OCTE and spent considerable time analyzing its narrative, lexicon and complexity.  It's fun to read and I predicted that students would enjoy it if given the chance.  Two barriers stood in the way. First, I didn't have a classroom set.  I don't have the funds to just buy 35 copies of a book.  Second, I wasn't sure I could get the book by my principal since it contains a lot of swear words and a discussion of masturbation.  My God, who wants to acknowledge that teenage boys think about teenage girls AND basketball?!

My friend Cathy Klasek came to the rescue on both accounts.  I had recommended last year or the year before that she use some grant money to buy copies for her kids.  She lent me her classroom set of the book. Since she teaches in the same district as I do, I approached my principal and told him that I was going to use the book and that it must be ok since another school district teacher has taught it with no problems.

So now I had buy-in from the principal and access to resources.  But where and when to work it in?  Cue the mandated tutoring music...

However, since I don't like the idea of forcing reading onto my kids (aren't they forced to do so much already?), I took a different route.  I invited a couple of kids- marginal readers and experts both- to come have lunch with me.  I gave them a pass from the cafeteria and they came upstairs to eat with me.  There were five, initially. At first we just ate our lunch.  Then I started reading the book to them. They asked to follow along with their own books, so I provided those.  There are drawings in the book and they seem to augment the story and captivate attention at the same time.  The first time I read the word "ass" aloud, the kids gasped.  The first time I said "shit" where it was printed in the text, they laughed. I think "boner" is the word they love the best. Sometimes, I refuse to read a word out loud and they hurriedly look in the book to see what it is.

It's more than cuss words though.  Alexie writes a story of poverty, of want, of friendship and of a boys determination to make his life better.  He is showing my kids a pathway to a better life and telling a good story at the same time. This is what speaks to children. We often pause to discuss the book and themes, to puzzle through difficult decisions that Alexie's characters make.  But mostly, we are reading for the pleasure of it.

The first time an extra kid showed up, I asked the students to fill him in on the plot.  Right away, five voices chimed in, interpreting, extrapolating and laughing.  They get it and they are passing it on. My principal is thrilled and promises never to interrupt.

My group is up to 11 kids now and we are halfway through.  But there was one obstacle to get past and that's the social stigma of being a nerd who reads.  That was the easiest thing in the world to solve.  Each of my kids has been assigned "lunch detention".  This way they can be tough and also get to be readers. Just before Thanksgiving break I was doing bus duty.  I like to say good night to my kids, to wish them well and smile and hug and encourage.  One of my lower-level boys was sitting by a girl.
"That's Miss Dieu.  She's mean", he said.
"She gave me lunch detention all last week." He looked at me like "Oh please don't out me!"
The girl's eyes got wide. "What did he do?"
I looked mean (I think). "Why don't you ask him? He's the one who did it."
"It wasn't my fault." said my kid.  He's a great liar.
"You know what?  Next week you're coming back. All week." I tried not to smile.
"Dang, you are mean!"  I doubt that girl will ever give me problems if she winds up in my class.
Meanwhile, as I walked away, I happened to glance back at my student.  He was impressing his girl with what a badass he is and making up some story about how he misbehaved and got 'lunch detention' with me.  His face didn't change, but he made the gesture that friends make to each other in our school, to signal acknowledgement and friendship when they cannot talk out loud.

Some days it's really great to be a teacher.